Your guide to live graphics for livestreams

Graphics are certainly an element that raises the professional look of your livestream. Graphics add more than just looks, however. Studies indicate that people remember more if they can see and hear information. If you want your message to stick when livestreaming, you need to add some images.

The challenge comes in when you consider all the different ways people view your content. A graphic, first and foremost, must be readable. That means on a large, UHD monitor as well as on a phone. You can’t add too much text and you need to choose your words carefully.

We spoke to Taylor Charboneau, Director of Production for Passion City Church and Passion Conferences. He headed up the technical team for their annual conference that went livestream this year. As 2020 turned into 2021, they saw a global audience of more than 730,000 attendees from over 178 countries. He tells us, “We strive to make our graphics work on large screens and small screens. We try to keep everything title safe for those that stream the content to their Apple TV or equivalent. We also watch the feed on iPhones to ensure everything is readable from that as well.”

The full-screen graphic

The most common method of using a graphic is a “full screen.” This covers the entire space and contains the most information. In advertising, this is often part of the action step and encourages views to call now, do this or go to this place. In a livestream, this is a great way to highlight the points you’re trying to make and put critical information out that you want people to remember.

The good news is that there are lots of ways to create full-screen graphics that are readable and eye-catching. One simple way is using PowerPoint or Apple’s Keynote. You choose from a variety of templates, fonts and images to keep your look consistent. There are also great apps like Adobe’s Spark Post that give you a ton of professional templates and even royalty-free images. You can easily choose the size of the image. Plus they have some basic animation features.

You’re going to have to take a step up to get those images on the stream. There is a number of apps that allow you to add an image while you’re live from your phone, like VidiMo Show from StreamGear. You can also step up to a streaming camera like the Mevo and add on the additional Producer package to use graphics. You can also take another step up to a video switcher like the Blackmagic ATEM Mini series. This allows you to input an HDMI signal from a computer, tablet or even a phone. Again, PowerPoint and Keynote will “play” the images in full screen.

The key of graphics

As you watch other livestreams and broadcast television, you’ll notice how many different ways images overlay on the video. This is referred to as a “key” and there are lots of ways they are used.

One of the most common methods is the “lower third key”. This is the kind of graphic you see as a bar along the bottom of the screen with a person’s name or a phone number. You can still see the main camera image. This is sometimes used by musicians or in churches to display the words to a song. This can be a simple as a box that is cut for space or as complex as a multi-layered image with a see-through background.

A lower third is not to be confused with a “bug” (sometimes called a “jellyfish” Down Under). This is another keyed graphic but it normally contains a simple logo or image that is transparent. The bug normally remains on the screen for a longer period of time and sometimes for the entire broadcast. Technically, when you display the word “Live” during the broadcast, that’s a bug. A similar, but specialized, kind of bug is used in sports to display scores and stats.

A combination of the full screen and key is the “over the shoulder” or “picture in picture”. It’s a large screen image that is squeezed down and keyed onto the camera image. You’ll see this commonly used on the news over the anchor person’s shoulder, hence the name. This can be a great way of adding interest to a person talking for a long time. It’s also a great way to add emphasis to certain key points. It usually takes some specific hardware or software to make the graphic go from over the shoulder to full screen.

How do you key?

Once again, adding keys is going to take another step up in the process but the results are worth it. It also requires a bit more planning. You need to make the key in advance and know when it goes on screen. It’s like editing on the fly.

Most of the apps and hardware we mentioned earlier allow for keys. Some have pre-made keying options. For example, the Mevo has simple lower thirds and over the shoulders that you can preset. Unfortunately, you can’t do them at the same time. The ATEM Mini switcher gives you a ton of flexibility for multi-layered keys, but few pre-made options.

A simple solution is one of the many switching and streaming web-based services like Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) or StreamYard. They both require that you have a way to bring your camera into your computer. This can be done with an HDMI to USB dongle or driver. Both systems allow for phones to be used as remote “guests”. Both also have great premade keying options. Because OBS is “open”, you can find user templates for all kinds of options including scoreboards.

To take your graphics to an even higher level, there are computer systems specifically made just for onscreen graphics. Passion uses a Ross Video Xpression unit. Taylor says this gave them the ability to add, “Things like name keys, live bugs, locators (at Passion 2021 this included Atlanta GA, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil and Cape Town, South Africa). We also showed the time of day in several different time zones as we went city to city checking in with people joining in.” They also created a side menu bar that showed the next programming elements.

What’s your image?

When it comes to graphics, there are many ways to get creative and get your point across. It’s a matter of increasing your tools and skills. The tolls can be as simple as an app or complex as a new system. The skill comes in our ability to use them. You can get inspiration for your livestream from anywhere. From billboards to broadcast news, notice how graphics are used.

If as the old saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words”, where can you add a picture to your story?

Jeff Chaves
Jeff Chaves
Jeff Chaves is the chief creative officer of Grace Pictures Inc. and is a full-time minister with over 12 years of experience in television broadcasting.

Related Content